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We Shouldn’t Let the Immigration Debate Decide Our Position in Europe

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This is a copy of a piece I wrote for Huffington Post this week.  You can find and comment on the original here http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ian-middleton/eu-referendum-immigration_b_9322718.html


 

So here it is. After years of campaigning and complaining, manoeuvring and cajoling, half-truths and good old fashioned British pig-headedness, the moaning masses of middle England have finally got their referendum.

I say ‘their’ referendum because this isn’t being staged at great expense for those of us who want to stay part of Europe. It’s not even for those who don’t really give a toss either way.

It’s certainly not for those more outward looking souls, who appreciate the many advantages of being a member of the European club. The easy movement between states (yes that does apply to us as well as all those annoying refugees and migrants) and the free transport of goods. Funding for urban and industrial renewal. Numerous environmental improvements to beaches, rivers and the countryside, including controls on things like GMOs. Human rights, animal rights, consumer rights. Cheaper phone charges and easier and cheaper travel and currency exchange. Social welfare protection and labour rights, and a panoply of other advantages that most people take for granted and will miss when they’re gone.

No, it’s a referendum for misguided and ill-informed little-Englanders, draped in Union flags, firm in the belief of two world wars and one world cup and certain the word ‘Great’ attached to Britain means something other than the first letter on a sticker they slap on the back of their booze cruise charabang, just to remind those envious foreigners that they were unlucky enough to be born on inferior soil.

But moreover, it’s a referendum for politicians who have been looking at continental Europe down the wrong end of the telescope for so long now, they just don’t realise how small this country has become on the world stage. A myopic concern about how much money we pay to Europe and a studied ignorance of the huge returns our EU membership generates.

Most people who focus on our payment to Brussels like to remind us what else we could do with that money. Yet with a growing national debt, and stubbornly high deficit, any such savings would likely fall into the same black hole as most of the rest of our national finances. Either that or it would go towards servicing the country’s circa £50bn annual interest payments, paid in large part to European banks anyway.

It’s not 1975. The geo-political landscape has changed around us since the last time we decided if we wanted to be a part of Europe. Yes, back in the swinging 70s it was the ‘Common Market’, but by necessity and common interest it’s become more than that. Those advocating some kind of return to a simple trading relationship are ignoring both the reality of our reduced place in the world and the promiscuity of world markets.

Neither is it 1938, even though Cameron’s Chamberlain moment was equally as hollow. Just like his pre-war counterpart, the agreement he reached in Brussels was peripheral and disposable, focussing as it did on the false polemic of immigration and border control.

It was a pantomime, with Donald Tusk and Angela Merkel as the ugly sisters to Cameron’s Cinderella. Shouts of “they’re behind you” were evident from the likes of UKIP and Front National pointing to the ‘hordes’ or ‘swarms’ or ‘bunches’ of ‘migrants’, ‘refugees’ or ‘immigrants’, depending on which description David Cameron and the BBC have alighted on this week.

I totally agree that EU democratic and regulatory processes are in desperate need of reform, but these weren’t the points that Cameron argued. Driven by domestic pressures, piled on by a widening xenophobic rhetoric, he was pushed into a rushed and ill-conceived round of negotiations that resulted in him metaphorically claiming ‘peace in our time’ outside Number 10. It was a performance put on to give him a platform to launch the referendum that we all knew was coming, and the critic’s reviews weren’t great.

Sadly for him, us, and the rest of Europe, this was a missed opportunity that could have sparked a trans-national debate about the real future of the EU and brought about radical changes to shape it into something more even-handed and responsive to the needs of all member states.

But instead, Cameron wasted what could have been his real place in history for the sake of a thumbs up from the likes of Farage, Gove and Galloway whilst gaining little tangible return for the UK, save for some token restrictions on benefit payments to migrants who rarely claim them anyway.

In fact it’s recently been revealed that the UK government has no idea how much immigration costs us, nor how much migrants contribute to our economy. But let’s not let a little thing like lack of facts get in the way of a nicely staked out scapegoat.

And while we’re on the subject of discrimination, we mustn’t forget those hard-pressed city bankers quaking in their handmade brogues, terrified that they may be penalised for being outside the Eurozone. That of course, amid the posturing about immigration, was the main concern for Cameron and his paymasters. Essentially he was in Brussels to fight for the right to discriminate against the poor whilst protecting the interests of the obscenely rich, although of course that wasn’t so eagerly reported.

And there we have it. The crux of all this political, psychological and media-spun mendacity – Corporate interest. Insular businesses seeking to rid themselves of the European interference and regulation that keeps all the rest of us safer and better looked after. The refugee and migrant crises couldn’t have come at a better time for these vested interests to galvanise public opinion in favour of an out vote.

On this flimsiest of pretexts, and on evidence largely pulled out UKIP’s collective backside, we’re potentially going to launch ourselves into one of the biggest national disasters for several generations. The ‘Brexit’ silo mentality that is about as relevant in today’s globally connected society as statutes recorded on vellum.

One of the greatest achievements and advantages of the EU is freedom of movement between states. It’s a harbinger of a future globalised socio-economic system where borders and statehood will be irrelevant. One where the term ‘economic-migrant’ will no longer be a thinly veiled insult, just as it wasn’t when we and other nations economically migrated across the globe centuries ago, annexing and occupying entire countries as we went. In that context, and in view of the Tories much vaunted ‘on your bike’ ethos, I find it perplexing that we now seem to regard our attraction as place of opportunity as a bad thing.

And while we’re on that subject, if I were a British migrant living on the continent I’d be feeling distinctly uncomfortable right now. Especially those who have lived there for longer than 15 years and are inexplicably denied the right to vote in a referendum that may well decide their future.

Those whistling tunes in the dark about independent trade agreements with Europe and other global partners will soon find that our status as the 5th richest nation in the world is built on foundations largely stamped with a CE logo. Already Sterling has plummeted on the news that Boris is heading for the lifeboats.

Much of our apparent wealth is generated by the financial sector and supported by our membership of the EU. Who will want to trade with us as a small individual nation with a growing national debt and a dwindling economic base? No wonder the city was such a key part of Cameron’s negotiations.

The finance sector is pretty much all we have left. We don’t have anything else to trade. China and the USA know this and have already warned us that a UK outside the EU will be of much less interest to them. The US in particular sees our connection with Europe as a valuable conduit into EU financial markets.

Uncoupling ourselves from the EU will be a long, painful and essentially irreversible process. We won’t wake up one day and see bluebirds over the white cliffs and a land of milk and honey for all. It will take years of debate, legal dispute and the unpicking of labyrinthine systems of regulation woven into our own statutory frameworks. A drawn out and retrograde process, during which I believe we’ll slowly come to see the folly of our ways.

And once we’ve closed our borders and thumbed our noses at one of the biggest trading blocs on the planet, it will be too late to realise that we’re now more of a Pekinese than a bulldog. An isle not so much sceptred as septic, poisoned by our own arrogance and bigotry, left entirely at the mercy of a broken political system where wealth goes one way, and protection is only there for those who can afford it.

As Britain shrivels into, at best, a tawdry tax haven in perpetual serfdom to a rich elite, we’ll come to the sad realisation that we’ve been sold a Jerusalem built on false promises and false flags. I wonder if border controls and apocryphal straight bananas will seem quite so important then.

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Why You Should Be Worried About TTIP

normal_ttip-eu_usa_santa_claude_eThe Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a EU/USA treaty being negotiated in secret on our behalf. I believe it is one of the most serious threats we have ever faced.  Yet it’s a threat that many people haven’t even heard of.

This proposed agreement has implications on a national and global level, particularly the Investor-State Dispute Settlements clause which allows corporations and private companies to take legal action against governments if they pass laws that are regarded as restricting their ability to make profits.

This strikes directly at the heart of our democracy, whilst effectively handing over sovereignty of all signature countries to the whim Amongst other things, TTIP also has the potential to force this country to accept genetically modified organisms into our food supply.

It loosens banking regulations (as the more stringent US banking laws could be subject to the lighter laws in the UK) and it could threaten jobs as more companies will be able to base their operations in the USA where labour law, employee protection and health and safety are less strictly applied.

TTIP could also have very serious implication for the NHS in terms of the penetration of public services by private companies.  Indeed TTIP could very easily be used to prevent any future moves to stop the creeping privatisation of the NHS as this may be regarded as restrictive by corporations wanting a piece of the action.

Whilst the Conservatives, Labour and the Libdems have all stated an ambition to ensure the NHS is excluded from TTIP, we have seen no guarantees on this from any quarter.

Moreover the extremely secretive nature of the treaty and the way it is being negotiated on our behalf behind firmly closed doors, leads me to distrust the ability or even the will of some of our representatives to ensure such exclusions will be applied.

The fact that both Labour and the Conservatives have self evidently displayed an ambition to see large parts of the health service and social care hived off to private companies, amid a culture of marketisation and capitulation to private providers, leaves me with very little confidence in a positive outcome for our cherished NHS.

The Green Party is firmly committed to blocking TTIP where we are able to, and our MEPs have already expressed deep concern about what appears to be an unavoidable quiescence to this agreement.

You might like to read this article by Molly Scott Cato MEP, who was recently allowed into the inner sanctum where the treaty is being drafted. Although as you will see she was sworn to secrecy and was subject to extreme measures to prevent her from recording and/or reporting what she saw.   This alone sounds some very loud alarm bells with me! http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/04/secrets-ttip-corporations-not-citizens-transatlantic-trade-deal

If I were to be elected, I would most fervently resist the inclusion of the UK within the TTIP treaty and I would also demand that the secret negotiations now being held in Brussels should be openly and frankly reported.

Honest and open government is our only guarantee that those trusted to look after our interests do so diligently and effectively.

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Carry On Westminster – The Tops Trumps of British Democracy

Green SupermanThis is a piece I wrote for Huffington Post earlier this week.  I think it speaks for itself, although after it was published I thought I should have pointed out that none of the the politicians I refer to in the studio on election night were Greens.  As usual we weren’t invited to the BBC party.  There were however representatives from Labour, Conservative, Libdems and UKIP.  Given that the Greens had a reasonably good showing in the last General Election in Rochester (for a ‘marginal’ party) I’d have thought we’d have been worth a mention at least.  But apparently not.

Anyway I hope this serves as a good first post on my website/blog and you can see the original article here  http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ian-middleton/westminster-politics_b_6199214.html?utm_hp_ref=tw.

Feel free to comment below or on the original article on the Huffington Post site.


I recently became a parliamentary candidate for the Green Party. After years of railing against politicians, the irony, and perhaps the hypocrisy, of becoming one myself has not been lost on me.

Then again, there were the constant jibes about my complaining a lot but doing nothing positive to make a change. So when my local party group asked me to stand, I said I’d give it a go. And here I am. Feel free to point the finger.

One of the first things I’ve noticed about the underbelly of politics is just how strategic it is. Target wards, target seats, candidates standing in constituencies where they don’t live for the sake of political expediency. None of this is new, or unusual, or even un-democratic, but it does take some getting used to.

But watching the BBC election special on the Rochester and Strood by-election, you could be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the political world has turned into some kind of wife swapping party from the mid 70s. It seems these days that political manoeuvring between the ruling parties has moved beyond juggling their own family jewels, and has been reduced to chucking their keys into the fruit bowl with anyone who fancies a quick fumble with their majority.

Firstly we had UKIP’s Deputy Chairperson Suzanne Evans being interviewed about where her party would go after the predicted win in Rochester. This consisted of a serious of nods and winks about who might and might not leap out of their own party bed and sneak into theirs when the neighbours weren’t looking. A sort of Carry-On Westminster, but with less laughs.

She then went on to explain, with barely concealed glee, that her fondest ambition was to seduce someone from Labour to join in their little tryst. Nigel is apparently talking to a couple of MPs but she couldn’t reveal more. She did everything but tap the side of her nose, elbow Andrew Neil in the ribs and give a little Babs Windsor giggle.

Then we had an analysis from a political expert explaining how UKIP’s performance in the by-election would determine how other sitting MPs would behave in the run up to next years general election. His premise was that if UKIP did well in Rochester, many other career politicians would be considering their position in the next few months. The expectation is apparently that if they think UKIP is a better bet for them to hold on to their seat (ooh matron!), then they would switch allegiances in order to do so.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I’m quite new to this game. But when one joins a party isn’t there something about ideology written into the contract? Or am I now being ridiculously naive?

Judging by the behaviour of at least two recent pantheons of British democracy I suppose I am. It seems that standing on a platform with a bunch of like minded individuals in the hope of doing something good for the country isn’t what it’s about any more.

No, apparently it’s more about hanging on to the House Of Commons parking place, the expense account, and access to the House of Commons bar, rather than the boring stuff like philosophical conviction. Some back-benchers are evidently more interested in maintaining a comfortable position for themselves, rather than for their constituents. Yet, in true British carry-on style, they still keep getting elected.

As a newcomer to this world, I saw with fresh eyes last night these four sombre suited politicians sitting uneasily with each other, smugly carving up the political cake amongst themselves. Like children at birthday party trying to decide who gets the last portion of jelly and ice cream, the polemic was about anything other than the issues that this country and the planet really face.

Iain Duncan Smith spent a good deal of his time justifying a particularly vituperative campaign poster that portrayed the idea of voting for Mark Reckless as on a par with seeking Pol Pot as a spiritual adviser. Reckless used to be an investment banker, he didn’t live in the area, he’d only moved there to take a safe seat. All very salient points for the local electorate, but ones that seemed exquisitely irrelevant when he was the Conservative MP only a few months ago.

Meanwhile UKIP expounded their claim that they listened to the people, and were offering an alternative to the status quo of careerist politicians who’d never done a days honest labour in their lives. Odd then that their success last night, and in Clacton a few weeks ago, relied on exactly the reverse of those ideals by welcoming with open arms two MPs firmly rooted in the rotten political establishment they claimed to despise.

On the point of principle I am in total agreement with them. The current political establishment has reduced democracy to the level of swapping football cards in the playground. But it’s a tawdry game of top trumps that they have just as much of a hand in as all the other entrenched Westminster parties.

If this is the future of politics in this country, I’m glad to be a member of a party that currently stands as an exemplar of how it is still possible to operate democratically without playing these cynical games. We may now have one less MP than UKIP, but at least ours is there on merit, rather than because she swapped her rosette for a more appealing colour.

And Caroline Lucas has just won MP of the year, which is something that gives me hope. Even so, she’s now the focus of a campaign to unseat her by the Labour party in Brighton, because, and despite of the fact, that Labour and the Greens share many of the same aims.

Moreover, if all these people care about is hanging on to their positions at all costs, what really is the point? And if the electorate is so fickle that they can’t see through this charade, maybe we deserve the graceless, flagitious mess they all seem to be making of the world.

One apocryphal anecdote from Rochester I heard today was that someone had voted UKIP because the sitting Tory MP hadn’t done enough for the local area. If that’s true, it’s an indictment of the great British voter more demoralising than anything supposedly implied by hanging a flag out of the window of your mock-Georgian semi.

But as an accidental politician I have to hope that it isn’t true, or at least typical. I have to trust that people in the UK will see past all the identikit politicos, the vested interests and the horse trading of their democratic heritage, and vote for real change and genuine representation in the next government.

I am ever the optimist.